by Robert G. Rodden

Women Must Weep

The National Right-to-Work Committee had little to show for time and  money spent in 1955 and 1956 but it continued to tap its corporate financial angels for more money in 1957. Having amassed a bureaucracy of professional propagandists, the committee had to justify its existence. As long as the committee could find legislators to serve as errand boys in the state houses they could milk corporate America for funds.

In February 1957 The Machinist reported the introduction of open shop bills in eight state legislatures with further submissions expected in at least twenty others. Failure to penetrate beyond Dixie and the Farm Belt had the National Right-to-Work Committee desperate for a breakthrough in an industrial state.

Indiana seemed to be the most tempting target. Though dotted with unionized factories spreading from huge steel complexes in Gary and Hammond in the North to such electrical and automotive manufacturing centers as South Bend, Ft. Wayne, Terre Haute and Evansville to the East and South, Hoosier politics were frankly conservative. The daily newspapers distributed widely out of Indianapolis were notoriously reactionary. The Ku Klux Klan controlled the state house in the 1920's and conservatives dominated Indiana's Congressional delegation in the 1950's.

Despite this favorable climate the NRTW's compulsory open shop bill was going nowhere in the 1957 session of the Indiana legislature until unknown night-riders unleashed a hail of bullets at a lonely trailer on the outskirts of the little town of Princeton in Southern Indiana in February 1957.

At the time the town was bitterly divided by a four-month old strike which pitted IAM Lodge 1459 against a company called Potter and Brumfield. The center of an old coal-mining region, Princeton had a tradition of bloodshed and violence in labor-management confrontations. In this case most of the strikers were women and the absentee owner, AMF, decided to continue operations with scabs. Even so violence remained relatively slight and sporadic throughout the winter, being pretty much limited to such isolated acts of vandalism as some broken windows and a few slashed tires.

On the night of February 12, literally hours before the right-to-work bill was scheduled for debate in Indianapolis, all hell broke loose. Someone fired shots into a trailer where a young couple and their four-month baby were sleeping. The baby was hit. When reporters learned the father had gone through the unions picket lines, wire services hummed with lurid accounts of the shooting of an infant by labor goons. By the time the news came over television that evening the nation vibrated with shock.

In Indianapolis right-to-work lobbyists celebrated. This senseless shooting, thirty-six hours before their bill came up, transformed a dead horse into a sure thing. Though no one knew who fired into the trailer, the media were quick to blame the union. Newspapers ignored Al Hayes' instant denunciation of such violence and the large rewards offered by the Grand Lodge, Local Lodge 1459 and the State Federation of Labor. In Cleveland Plain Dealer readers were treated to a swarmy statement that "whatever the IAM may say, it is significant that before the strike began babies could sleep in their pink blankets with a pretty fair chance of waking up alive."

With the merits of the issue lost in a wave of anti-union hysteria the right-to-work bill sailed through the Indiana legislature, clearing the Assembly 54 to 42 and squeaking through the Senate 27 to 23.

Anatomy Of A Lie

After converting the Princeton shooting into a compulsory open shop law in Indiana, the National Right-to-Work Committee set out to parlay the tragedy into a general indictment of trade unionism. During the strike they discovered an unexpected ally.  Almost from the start the Reverend Edward Greenfield of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton appointed himself leader and spokesman for a back-to-work movement. He interjected himself into the strike early, calling upon union members, urging them to go back to work, organizing and chairing meetings of a dissident group that came to be known as "The Splinters" and personally escorting scabs through the picket lines.

When the strike was settled, a few days after the shooting, Reverend Greenfield left Princeton for a well-paying position as a propagandist with a right-to-work organization in California. He penned a fictionalized version of this experiences in Princeton called ". . . And Women Must Weep." By this time the baby was fully recovered, happy and healthy, having been only slightly grazed, but Greenfield's diatribe "waved the bloody diaper" in all directions. Widely circulated by the National Right-to-Work Committee, first as a pamphlet and then as a motion picture, " . . . And Women Must Weep" achieved the potency of dynamite in the anti-union arsenal. It was available to any employer fighting to keep unions out or undermine existing bargaining units. A slickly expensive Hollywood production, complete with technicolor and professional actors," . . . And Women Must Weep" was presented to captive audiences as a true story. And it was effective.

Soon Al Hayes was hearing form IAM representatives in the field. They were being crucified by Greenfield's fable. Where IAM organizers went ". . . Women Must Weep" invariably followed. Realizing it must be answered, Hayes sent Gordon Cole to Princeton with instructions to talk to the people, find the truth and record it factually on film. Cole applied a reporters' scalpel to Greenfield's fabrications. Without actors or props or phony settings he let the people of Princeton speak for themselves. The resulting film, "The Anatomy of a Lie", exposed and dissected Greenfield's lies.

In ". . . Weep," the union president, played by a professional actor, was portrayed as a big, burly, blustering bully who bellowed throughout a staged "union meeting." The Cole film showed the real union president, a half-blind, soft spoken, little fifty-nine-year-old lady.

In "Weep," the "union boss" called a strike because he was fired for taking too much time off. In the "Anatomy Of A Lie" union members testified that when new absentee  corporate owners bought Potter and Brumfield they "started to change everything," introducing time study, violating the contract and forcing the lodge to arbitrate almost every grievance.

In "Weep," the strike was shouted through on a voice vote at what seemed to be a meeting of ten or twelve people in a small room. Cole proved, through personal, on-the-spot interviews, that some 400 of Potter and Brumfield's 500 workers attended a mass meeting in the National Guard Armory and only nine votes were cast against the strike in secret balloting.

In "Weep," the strike was presented as a wildcat walkout that came as "a complete surprise to everyone," Workers coming to the plant were supposedly mystified to find picket lines. Actors milled about mouthing such lines as "Nobody said we were going on strike." In "Anatomy" members told Cole all members had notice of the strike vote both through the lodge and announcements on the radio.

In "Weep," officers and pickets were all portrayed as strong-arm toughs. In filmed interviews with the people of Princeton Cole learned that 80% of the workers and seven of ten local lodge officers were women. 

In "Weep," the union engaged in mass picketing and perpetrated acts of violence. On-the-spot witnesses told Cole that number of pickets was strictly limited by law and the sheriff testified on camera that "the union gave us no trouble." Cole capped his presentation by interviewing the father of the wounded baby. In "Weep" the narrator claimed, "A bullet passed through the brain of the baby." In "Anatomy" the father informed Cole that his daughter, now five years old, was in perfect health. Though employed in a town some miles away the father voluntarily returned to Princeton to set the record straight. His statement on camera made it clear there was never any evidence of involvement by the union or its members. 

As a factual refutation of Greenfield's fiction "Anatomy of a Lie" was devastating. But, in the words of the old saying, "A lie can race around the world while truth is pulling on its boots." Greenfield's lies inflicted immeasurable harm on the labor movement. While Cole's film served as an antidote, it could only be effective if it was shown along with ". . . And Women Must Weep." Naturally, it was usually kept from workers who were brought in to view right-to-work propaganda on company time. 

The enactment of the compulsory open shop law shook the Indiana labor movement, stimulating grass roots political action to a level of intensity that paid off within a few years. GLR Bob Brown was in Indianapolis, lobbying for the state Machinists' Council, when the tragedy in Princeton triggered the right-to-work stampede. He later said that when he returned to his home in Princeton that night he immediately began to screen possible candidates for the next election.

The McClellan Committee and Landrum-Griffin

While trying to check open shop laws in the state capitols, the labor movement was set up for punitive federal legislation in January 1957 when the Senate funded a select committee to probe "criminal or other improper activities in the field of Labor-Management relations." The AFL-CIO did not object to an impartial investigation of union and employer corruption. Prior to the merger the AFL and CIO both supported legislation regulating health and welfare funds. But the make-up of the select committee roused apprehension. Al Hayes was one of the many union leaders who suspected that such notoriously anti-union Senators as Goldwater of Arizona and Mundt of South Dakota would be more interested in weakening unions than cleaning out corruption.  Chairman John McClellan of Arkansas was a rock-ribbed segregationist who normally lined up with the Dixiecrats. While expressing solicitude for the democratic rights of workers  in unions his political career was dedicated to blocking democratic rights for black citizens in Arkansas. Upon taking the helm of the Senate select committee he quickly showed his true colors by offering a right-to-work amendment to an early civil rights bill.

When the McClellan Committee opened its probe AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Committee Chairman Al Hayes was already conducting the labor movements' first internal investigations. He was exploring uncharted territory. Before the merger the AFL had neither the power (nor under Gompers or Green the inclination) to dig into the seamy side of affiliates.* Individual unions were considered autonomous, answerable to no one except their members. In drafting the new AFL-CIO Constitution Meany and Reuther agreed on language establishing the Executive Council's duty to keep the Federation "free of any taint of corruption or Communism."

*Meany was the first to call affiliates to account. In 1952 he took action against corruption in the Textile Workers Union, the Longshoremen and some racketeering locals in New York.
With technical assistance for one of America's leading labor lawyers (and later Supreme Court Justice) Arthur Goldberg, the Hayes' Committee drafted codes of ethical practices setting standards for issuing union charters, administering health and welfare funds, guarding against crooks, racketeers and political extremists and avoiding conflicts of interest.

With these codes the AFL-CIO Executive Council soon proved it meant business by stripping Teamster President Dave Beck of his seat on the council, suspending a number of unions and putting others on probation. When the AFL-CIO Convention met later that year it expelled the Teamsters, the Bakery Workers and the Laundry Workers. Despite this evidence of good faith, the labor movement, unlike professional organizations of lawyers and doctors, was not given a chance to clean house. The Ethical Practices Committee internal probe was shouldered aside by the McClellan Committee. Armed with subpoena powers, Senate staffers could demand and leak any raw or incomplete information the Hayes' group might be trying to develop.

In establishing the McClellan Committee the Senate directed it to investigate management as well as labor corruption. It could hardly avoid evidence of the illegal methods by which supposedly reputable corporations violated the nation's labor laws. Among the unsavory characters paraded before the committee were one Nathan Shefferman and his son. Testimony showed the Sheffermans received retainers for rendering illegal union-busting services to almost 500 companies, including such household names as Sears-Roebuck and Whirlpool. When questioned about the use of goon squads, threats, bribery and phony worker "vote no" committees in representation elections, Shefferman pleaded the Fifth Amendment twenty-six times, his son thirty times.

While showing little interest in management corruption the daily press reveled in any dirt the McClellan hearings uncovered in the labor movement. While the misdeeds of such as the Sheffermans were usually buried in the inside pages, the sins of union officers were emblazoned across front pages day after day. With so much time and space devoted to the committee's exposÚs, much of the public began to believe the labor movement was corrupt from top to bottom. Al Hayes tried vainly to set the record straight, stumping the country, speaking to audiences at universities, civic organizations, management conferences or whoever else would listen. He pointed out that more than 100 AFL-CIO unions were served by more than 16,000 full-time officers and representatives. Despite years of probes verging on witch-hunts that started long before the McClellan Committee, fewer than thirty individuals in no more than a half-dozen unions had been implicated in wrong doing. He pointed out that while top officers of many of America's largest corporations were found guilty of a gigantic price-fixing conspiracy that cost U. S. consumers millions of dollars, the McClellan Committee, did not find a single instance of corruption or wrong doing by such major industrial unions as the IAM, the UAW, Steelworkers, IUE or Communications Workers. Appeals to reason were futile. With the help of the media, the McClellan Committee created an image of a labor movement honeycombed with corruption, paving the way for a legislative assault second only to Taft-Hartley.

The original bill sponsored by Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was a straightforward disclosure and reporting measure aimed directly at corrupt individuals and practices. This was acceptable to the labor movement, but as Kennedy's measure moved from subcommittee to full committee to the floor of the Senate, anti-union forces added malicious amendments designed to weaken collective bargaining by crippling unions. When the bill finally cleared the Senate, the IAM's veteran lobbyist on Capitol Hill, George Nelson, warned it was "full of fishhooks for local unions." The Senate version was bad enough, but the House made it worse by transforming it into a tough "Labor Reform" bill severely limiting traditional union rights to picket and boycott. Harsh penalties were established to enforce a so-called "Bill of Rights" for union members.

Unions tried to rally opposition, but were literally bowled over by the what The Machinist described as "the most high pressure, big business lobbying campaign ever seen in Washington." George Nelson later recalled that he and other union spokesmen were literally elbowed aside by swarms of lobbyists for the NAM, U. S. Chamber of Commerce, local business associations, corporations and utilities. Eisenhower jumped in, huckstering the big business line on a nationwide radio and TV hookup. Nearing the end of his second term, Ike no longer tried to hide his affinity for--some say awe of--the nations monied interests. The drumbeat of anti-union propaganda continued to build in the press. As the bill was rushed to enactment in the House, Machinist editor Gordon Cole described the lynch mood in the Nation's Capital.

Hysteria is running high in Washington, fanned by one of the most massive propaganda campaigns of modern times. The television networks have joined in. As have the Reader's Digest, Life and Newsweek. Any bill enacted in the heat of vindictive hysteria will be another burden for labor to bear, another obstacle to overcome, another expense to meet.
The legislation that Eisenhower signed, known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, was radically different from the original Kennedy bill that started out in the Senate. Along the way it was tailored to the dictates of big business. The NAM News reported those "who had advocated a stronger measure were greatly pleased". The National Right-to-Work Committee termed it "highly encouraging". U. S. News and World Report predicted "small business will benefit". One widely syndicated conservative columnist, David Lawrence, saw it "only as a start. " In surveying the damage in The Machinist, Gordon Cole predicted, "union members will pay the price at the bargaining table and in grievance settlements for years to come."


Back to the Barricades
Elmer Walker--The Bull of the Woods



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Greg Enright